In April 1942, Hitler and Mussolini meet in Salzburg where they agree on a renewed assault on the Soviet Union. Launched in the summer, the campaign soon picks up speed, as the routed Red Army is driven back to the industrial center of Stalingrad on the banks of the Volga. In the rubble of the bombed-out city, Soviet forces dig in for a last stand.
The story told in Vasily Grossman’s Stalingrad unfolds across the length and breadth of Russia and Europe, and its characters include mothers and daughters, husbands and brothers, generals, nurses, political activists, steelworkers, and peasants, along with Hitler and other historical figures. At the heart of the novel is the Shaposhnikov family. Even as the Germans advance, the matriarch, Alexandra Vladimirovna, refuses to leave Stalingrad. Far from the front, her eldest daughter, Ludmila, is unhappily married to the Jewish physicist Viktor Shtrum. Viktor’s research may be of crucial military importance, but he is distracted by thoughts of his mother in the Ukraine, lost behind German lines.
In Stalingrad, published here for the first time in English translation, and in its celebrated sequel, Life and Fate, Grossman writes with extraordinary power and deep compassion about the disasters of war and the ruthlessness of totalitarianism, without, however, losing sight of the little things that are the daily currency of human existence or of humanity’s inextinguishable, saving attachment to nature and life. Grossman’s two-volume masterpiece can now be seen as one of the supreme accomplishments of twentieth-century literature, tender and fearless, intimate and epic.
Grossman's epic, sprawling novel from 1952 is a masterpiece of intertwined plots that cascade together in a long sequence of militaristic horror. Grossman (1905 1964), best known for this book's sequel, Life and Fate, was on the scene as a Soviet war reporter during WWII's Nazi siege of Stalingrad, and the novel teems with his firsthand observations. The action is told from dozens of perspectives, ranging from humble workers to Hitler himself. Most of the characters have some relationship to Stalingrad's Shaposhnikov family. After an opening dinner party, the Shaposhnikovs are separated by a war that has drawn ever nearer to their city. Alexandra, the family matriarch, is forced into exile with her oldest daughter, Ludmila. Ludmila's husband, Viktor Shtrum, an important scientist, is worried that his Jewish mother has been a victim of the Holocaust. Alexandra's second daughter, Marusya, and her daughter, Vera, display heroism in their wartime work in an orphanage and a hospital. The beautiful Zhenya, Alexandra's youngest daughter, has left Nikolay Krymov, a communist thinker, and is being courted by Pyotr Novikov, a gifted military strategist. Two of the family's grandchildren, Tolya and Seryozha, are in military units defending the city. When the bombing of Stalingrad begins, Grossman cuts between viewpoints, rewinding time over and over again. A spectacular afterword details the extent of censorship the text suffered under Stalin. As a stand-alone novel, this is both gripping and enlightening, a tour de force. When considered as a whole with Life and Fate, this diptych is one of the landmark accomplishments of 20th-century literature.